A Landlord’s Guide to Tenant Screening Laws in Florida - Article Banner

Florida is not particularly strict when it comes to tenant protections and laws around rental properties. It’s a fairly landlord-friendly state. But, you still have a set of laws that must be followed, especially when you’re screening tenants and evaluating applications. Fair housing laws will be especially important. 

If you’re not working with a local property manager, you’re at risk for making easy legal mistakes that you likely won’t even realize are looming. You never want to be in front of a judge without understanding the law and how it pertains to you. We want to help you avoid those pitfalls. 

Here’s a guide to the laws you must follow while screening tenants for your rental property. 

Applications and Permissions 

You’ll begin your screening process by collecting an application from any tenant 18 years of age or older who wants to live in your property. The application needs to collect all of the pertinent information that you’ll need to screen effectively, including:

  • Identifying information, such as name, current address, social security number, and driver’s license number. 
  • Employment and income information, including documentation that verifies how much money the tenant earns. 
  • Residential history. You’ll want to collect information on where the tenant currently lives and has lived previously. Whether they own or rent, you’ll want information on how much they’re paying or paid and how long they’ve lived there.
  • Ask financial questions. For example, has the tenant ever been evicted or declared bankruptcy?

An application is only useful to you if you get a signature providing permission for you to conduct background checks and pull credit checks. If you’re going to contact current and former landlords for rental references, you’ll want to make sure the applicant knows that and agrees to it. You cannot go digging into the tenant’s personal and private information, especially financial information, without permission.

The law requires a specific format, which includes a disclosure that you’ll be checking the applicant’s background, and an authorization. Typically, both the disclosure and the authorization are included in the same form. You cannot provide a disclaimer or a release of liability. 

Fair Housing and Tenant Selection

Fair housing laws require that you do not discriminate against any applicants or tenants because of the characteristics that are covered in the list of protected classes. This means you cannot make decisions based on: 

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Sex
  • Familial status
  • Disability

We recommend that you establish some qualifying rental criteria that you’ll apply to all applicants so you’re holding everyone to the same standards. This will keep your screening process objective and legally compliant, and it will also protect you against any claims of discrimination or unfair treatment. 

Most of the landlords and property owners we work with would never discriminate against any particular applicant or tenant intentionally, however you’d be surprised at what can be perceived as discrimination. You have to be mindful in your marketing, in your screening, and in any of your communications so that it’s clear you are treating everyone the same. 

Fair Credit Reporting Act 

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a federal law designed to promote accuracy, fairness, and privacy for all consumers when it comes to their credit reporting. It aims to regulate how consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) distribute credit reports and the processes by which the information in them is handled. For landlords, the FCRA is particularly important when screening tenants because it governs the provision and use of credit reports in the tenant selection process.

Complying with the FCRA means that when you initiate the process of screening a prospective tenant using a consumer report, you must:

  • Obtain the prospective tenant’s written consent before requesting a consumer report.
  • Disclose to the tenant that you might use the report for decisions related to their tenancy.
  • Inform the tenant of their right to a description of the nature and substance of the report if they request that information.
  • Ensure the proper disposal of the report and any information gathered from it to protect the potential tenant’s privacy.

If you decide not to rent to a tenant based on information in the credit report, you are legally obligated to:

  • Notify the tenant that they were rejected due to information in the credit report.
  • Provide the name, address, and phone number of the consumer reporting agency that provided the report.
  • Inform the tenant of their right to obtain a free copy of the report from the consumer reporting agency if they request it within 60 days of the adverse action notice.
  • As the landlord, always be mindful of the language used in the adverse action notice. It should be clear and not vague or misleading in any way.

To ensure compliance with the FCRA, make sure you have a process in place to stay up-to-date with FCRA regulations and any state or local laws that might affect tenant screening processes. 

Maintaining these best practices not only protects you from legal entanglements but also fosters good relationships with prospective tenants by demonstrating a commitment to transparency and fairness in your screening process. 

Florida does not have any additional or specific state laws about what you can and cannot do with background checks. Some states restrict how criminal background checks are used, but in Florida, there are no limits. These are public records, unless they’re sealed. So, you can access state and county criminal records when making your decision. 

Tenant screening is an important part of leasing and managing a rental home. It dictates the type of resident you’ll have in your home, which influences whether you have a positive and profitable experience or one that’s prone to conflicts, disputes, and potential expenses you didn’t expect. You want to screen thoroughly, but you also want to be legally compliant.

Tenant ScreeningThis is a brief overview of the laws you’ll need to reference when you’re screening and selecting tenants. There are a host of other laws that you must follow throughout the leasing period, including habitability standards, security deposit laws, and specific requirements around evictions and lease renewals. Hoffman Realty uses an attorney to advise us and keep us informed.  That means our owners are protected and kept up to date with legal changes. Let’s talk about how we can help you make sure you’re in compliance. Contact us at Hoffman Realty for any help with tenant screening or anything pertaining to Tampa property management.